EST. 1926

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Gingerbread: Greek history behind iconic Christmas tradition

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By Victoria Loutas

Every year on Christmas, we see an influx of Gingerbread. Whether it be gingerbread men, gingerbread cookies or gingerbread houses, they are just about everywhere in the holiday season! But why exactly do we eat gingerbread during Christmas? 

History

Ginger root was first cultivated in ancient China, where it was commonly used as a medical treatment. Gingerbread itself is said to have originated from Medieval England, where the term gingerbread simply meant ‘preserved ginger’. 

However, the first known recipe for Gingerbread is said to have come from Greece in 2400 BC. Eventually, every culture in the world began making their own adaption of the gingerbread recipe, with many Western countries beginning to decorate the hard biscuits. 

Countries such as England, France, Holland and Germany would host ‘Gingerbread Fairs’ centred around gingerbread cookies. The shapes and designs would change with the season. 

The figure shaped gingerbread men is often credited to Queen Elizabeth I. She had them baked to resemble the likeness of important guests she was expecting.

But how did we get Gingerbread houses? The tradition of decorated gingerbread houses began in Germany in the early 1800s.

Many believe that the tale of Hansel and Gretel created a surge in the popularity of Gingerbread houses. The story includes the memorable line, “When they came nearer they saw that the house was built of bread, and roofed with cakes, and the window was of transparent sugar.” (In later versions it became gingerbread, rather than just bread). 

(Hansel and Gretel Gingerbread house)

Over the years, Gingerbread men and houses became associated with Christmas and are now a popular holiday tradition. Follow our simple Gingerbread recipe and get creative making gingerbread men and gingerbread houses this Christmas!

Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup golden syrup
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/4 cup self raising flour
  • 1 tbs ground ginger
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 330g icing mixture, to decorate
  • Small decorations of choice (e.g. cachous and pearls), to decorate
  • Food colouring, to decorate

Recipe:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
  2. Beat butter, sugar and syrup together in a bowl until creamy. 
  3. Add the egg to the mixture and beat well. 
  4. Sift flours, ginger and bicarbonate soda together and stir into butter mixture. 
  5. Pour out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly until smooth. 
  6. Roll out to 5mm thick. Use cutters to cut out desired shapes. Transfer to a baking tray, making sure to leave space between the biscuits.
  7. Bake for 10-12 minutes until light brown. Remove and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  8. To decorate the biscuits: prepare the icing mix following packet instructions and add colour as desired. Get creative with your Christmas decorations! 

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